Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Early indications Libya attack organised

03 October 2012, 10:44

Washington - Within hours of last month's attacks on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, President Barack Obama's administration received about a dozen intelligence reports suggesting militants connected to al-Qaeda were involved, three government sources said.

Despite these reports, in public statements and private meetings, top US officials spent nearly two weeks highlighting intelligence suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim film, while playing down the involvement of organised militant groups.

It was not until last Friday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office issued an unusual public statement, which described how the picture that intelligence agencies presented to US policymakers had "evolved" into an acknowledgement that the attacks were "deliberate and organised" and "carried out by extremists".

The existence of the early reports appears to raise fresh questions about the Obama administration's public messaging about the attack as it seeks to fend off Republican charges that the White House failed to prevent a terrorist strike that left a US ambassador and three others dead.

"What we're seeing now is the picture starting to develop that it wasn't a problem with the intelligence that was given, it's what they did with the intelligence that they were given," Representative Mike Rogers, chairperson of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday.

"This picture is still a little fuzzy but it is starting to come into focus and it appears that there were, very early on, some indications that there was jihadist participation in the event," he said.

Premature conclusions

The Obama administration has strongly defended its public accounts of what happened in Benghazi, and said its understanding has evolved as additional information came in.

"At every step of the way, the administration has based its public statements on the best assessments that were provided by the intelligence community. As the intelligence community learned more information, they updated Congress and the American people on it," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney.

Some officials said US spy agencies tried to avoid drawing premature conclusions about how the violence began and who organised it.

"Unless you have very good reports that strongly suggest who was behind the attack for sure, it is prudent to be careful, because placing emphasis publicly, even tentatively, on any one group or groups too soon can lead everyone down the wrong path," said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Republicans have sought to make the shifting stories told by administration officials about the attack, and inadequate security precautions at the US diplomatic site in Libya, a major issue in the presidential campaign leading up to the 6 November election.

Two House Republicans said they would hold Congress' first hearing on the matter on 10 October.

Pretext for attacks

The stream of intelligence flowing into Washington within hours of the Benghazi attacks contained data from communications intercepts and US informants, which were then fashioned into polished initial assessments for policymakers.

Officials familiar with them said they contained evidence that members of a militant faction, Ansar al-Sharia, as well as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, were involved in the assaults.

The report did not allege the attacks were a reaction to the anti-Muslim film, but acknowledged it was possible that the attackers sought to use an outbreak of violence in Cairo over the film, which insulted the Prophet Muhammad, as a pretext for attacks.

One official said initial reporting suggested militants had begun planning attacks on US targets in Benghazi before 11 September, but may well have decided to use the protests as a pretext for moving forward that day.

Reuters reported on 12 September, citing US government officials, that the attacks may have been planned and organised in advance, and that members of Ansar al-Sharia and AQIM may have been involved.

Yet on 15 September, administration officials, relying upon what they said was other information from intelligence agencies, circulated to members of Congress a set of talking points prepared by the CIA that purported to summarise what US intelligence knew.

Incomplete, misleading

The talking points said: "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex."

The document then noted that "There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations." It contained no further elaboration.

The talking points reflected information that White House officials and Congress were given in closed-door intelligence briefings in the days immediately after the attacks. In one such session, CIA director David Petraeus used lines which paralleled the talking points.

"It seems increasingly clear that the briefings provided to Congress and the public about the Benghazi attack were at best incomplete and at worst misleading," Senator Saxby Chambliss, the Republican vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.

"Within hours of the attack, intelligence assessments highlighted the role of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, but the administration focused instead on a video that appears to have had little, if anything, to do with the violence in Benghazi," Chambliss said.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, also appeared to use information contained in the talking points on Sunday 16 September when she made five appearances on TV talk shows.

Call for resignation

On CBS' Face the Nation, Rice said the Benghazi attacks were triggered by a "hateful video", which prompted a "spontaneous protest" that "spun from there into something more violent". Regarding militants, she said only that it was "clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence".

Congressman Peter King, a New York Republican, has urged Rice to resign over the issue, a call the State Department has rejected.

The Daily Beast website reported last week that in the hours after the attack, US intelligence agencies monitored communications between members of Ansar al-Sharia and AQIM.

Ansar al-Sharia operatives "bragged" about their attack on the US diplomatic mission and acted as if they were "subordinate" to AQIM, it quoted a US official as saying.

It now appears questionable that the anti-Muslim film, which sparked a violent protest against the US Embassy in Cairo earlier on 11 September, played a significant role in the Benghazi attack. Some US officials have not foreclosed that possibility.

But Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairperson, said he had never seen intelligence reporting to support such an assertion.

"I haven't seen anything that shows that the intelligence community said on the day of, or the immediate day following, that this was a spontaneous event," he said.

- Reuters


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...